Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Idiocy in Edinburgh
If you’re a gun nut, this story will have you screaming. If you aren’t, then you might still find the five year jail sentence handed down to be ridiculous.
Me, I guess I’m more on the gun nut side of that scale.
Unjust and disproportionate, indeed. An 80 year old Czech pistol with no ammunition isn’t worth a five year sentence.
Of course, I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t believe that I need the government’s permission to be allowed to defend myself and to own the right tools for that defense.
Brand Obama Losing Luster
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
AT&T Data Plan Changes
Today’s announcement of AT&T’s data plan changes for users with smart phones didn’t leave me particularly happy. While it won’t have any effect on me immediately (my phone is under contract for the next year and a half, give or take a bit), it isn’t the direction I wanted to see AT&T go in policing their own 3G network.
I haven’t had the same exceptionally negative experience with AT&T that others have; I’ve used the voice network from Florida to Hawaii and a bunch of places in between and rarely found a place where I didn’t have coverage. I’ve been with AT&T since I bought my first cell phone (and through two service changes here in Colorado that had users shunted off into a different carrier and then brought back right before the initial iPhone launch), and I’ve been reasonably happy with the service. In fact, the move to 3G when I upgraded my phone made me even happier. The network coverage seems wider and stronger--even though it brought a small price bump over the original device.
The original iPhone was an interesting experience for me. Not only did it surprise me in its utility, but it surprised me because I was happy to see my monthly bill raise from about $40/month to a bit over $70 per month (my original bill plus a mandatory $30/month unlimited data plan). When I upgraded to the 3GS near the beginning of the year, my contract changed again and I now pay about $88/month. And I’m happy.
To recap: I have seen my cell phone bill double over the last few years and I am happy. Which is not something I would have expected.
Part of that happiness comes with not having to worry about data usage with the knowledge that I’m not going to be hit with any big fees if I go over my allotment, unlike, for instance, the charges I pay when I use my phone from, say, India. Now the rules are going to change and new users will need to worry about their data use. If I sign another AT&T contract, I know that it will force me to “upgrade” to their new service levels and watch my data allotment slashed. If AT&T doesn’t offer a reasonably priced, unlimited plan when that moment comes, I might jump ship for Verizon--and if the iPhone isn’t offered on other carriers, I’ll consider moving to something Android based.
That said, their new contract with 2 gigs of data for $25/month is more than I use in any given month. More than double what I’ve used in any given month, in fact. Below is my data usage going back a few months.
At no point did my usage even top the 1 gig mark. Note, by the way, the moment that the 3GS came into my world--I’m sure you’ll see it in an instance.
So, AT&T’s new policy wouldn’t likely curtail my network use--or, at least, if it did it wouldn’t be by much and it wouldn’t be often. Why am I suddenly unhappy, then?
My unhappiness started with when AT&T started pushing the 3G Microcell/Femtocell device. The device hangs on your local high speed network and acts as a sort of mini cell phone tower in your home--and then it pushes your voice and data traffic over the local network instead of reaching out to the nearest AT&T cell tower. Which sounded pretty interesting.
In fact, I considered buying one so that I could kill off our landline at home. But after buying the device from AT&T, I found that it wouldn’t give me what I needed because it would still ding me for minutes when I was using, in large part, my own high speed Internet service to transfer voice data. So the 3G Microcell helps AT&T offload traffic from their heavily taxed network, adds a (one time) $150 fee for the user, and still uses up minutes. Maybe it’s just me, but that equation doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, it seems a little insulting.
I don’t mind businesses making a profit from me when they provide good service; for the most part, AT&T has done that. But these new rules and regulations are starting to make me feel a little used. A little unhappy.
If the trend continues, I’ll be needing a new cell phone carrier.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Al and Tipper
No cheap shots at Al Gore today--at least, not from me.
Separation is almost invariably the first step in a divorce. I’m not a particularly wise person and my ideals aren’t shared by everyone. That said, I recently told a friend, and I believe it to my core: divorce is very much like war. That is, it is the worst option until it is the only option.
The structures that a couple builds in 40 years of life together--the good and bad experiences together, the dreams still unfulfilled, the friends and the family that grows over those decades, and the mutual support that comes from knowing someone that intimately can all be burdens and blessings. It’s hard to lose all of that (sometimes even the bad bits).
Whatever it is that has brought them to this point, my best wishes to the couple that they can find a way to hold their marriage together. Failing that, I hope that their friends and family help them through what will be a rough time in their lives.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Bill Maher Thought He Was Voting for the OG Prez
It doesn’t rank near the top of the list of dumbest things ever said, but it’s definitely one of the dumbest things I’ve heard recently.
In wishing for an American president who is more, you know, black, Bill Maher betrays his vision of what constitutes an authentically black American: a gun-toting original gangsta.
Apparently an educated man who doesn’t feel the need to resort to threats of violence in his executive meetings isn’t black enough for Maher. His view of black men is, apparently, a cartoonish view of black men as complete captives to their violent urges, with no nuance, and, no matter the education and professional achievement, just one step away from joining the Rollin’ 30 Crips. That’s a real black president, according to Maher. I suppose that, skin color be damned, a dark-skinned fellow who doesn’t exhibit those traits is just a white man in disguise?
Which is one of many, many reasons to switch the channel when he comes on.
Friday, May 28, 2010
That’s the Way to Handle a Heckler
Kudos to Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, for his handling of a surprising heckler during his remarks at an Africa Day celebration. The surprising source? The Zimbabwean ambassador, Machivenyika Mapuranga. What could have been embarrassing, though, wasn’t quite a “tear down this wall” moment, but it is admirably frank and utterly right.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Birthday Presents for the Discerning Screaming Trees Fan
Sweet Oblivion is being re-released on vinyl. Which is freakin’ awesome.
It also might help blunt the pain of the Lee DeWyze win. If that doesn’t, a quick dose of 16 Horsepower might help.
And if you want something a little more light-hearted, try Richard Swift’s “Would You?”
American Idol: The Old Guys Are Better Than The Young Guys Edition
(Spoiler Down Below)
One thing about watching fogies night is the realization that the old, professional singers are, in large part, out-singing their American Idol counterparts. Including some of those who made it pretty far into the show. Including one of the guys who had a chance to win tonight.
Seriously, Lee DeWyze seems like a really nice guy, but his voice isn’t particularly good, he can’t seem to remember (or maybe he just doesn’t appreciate) the melody, he doesn’t connect emotionally to the song, he’s charismatic in the same way that firewood is charismatic, and he’s boring.
I like pop music and my disappointment in the show isn’t a reflection of the songs that they sing (although what I wouldn’t have given to see them have to tackle, say, Corrosion of Conformity night). It’s a reflection of the fact that they pile outrageous praise on vocal performances that simply don’t deserve it like, for instance, Lee’s take on “The Boxer.” He had zero understanding of the emotion or the subtlety of the song and, honestly, it was a horrible song for a night where they were supposed to be singing inspirational songs.
“The Boxer” may be defiant, but it’s hardly inspirational either in tone or in subject--it’s a hard song about someone who, in the words of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, is “born to lose and destined to fail.” Unlike the Ness song, though, Simon and Garfunkel’s boxer keeps standing up to take the next punch. That’s not inspirational because there is precisely nothing in the song or the character they paint that leads anyone to believe that the guy is going to win the fight (much less “win” in life)--he’ll just gather more scars and wish he could find his way home. His life will leave him lonely and he’ll continue to take his solace in “the whores on Seventh Avenue,” but that’s an empty and cold life by anyone’s standards.
Inspirational? I don’t see it.
If he had managed to sing it well, I might have forgiven him, but he didn’t. In fact, of the episodes that I saw this year, there really weren’t a lot of highlights--and what few bright spots there were didn’t come from him.
Tim Urban, with one of the most limited voices on the show, managed one of those high points when he sang “Hallelujah.” While it didn’t capture the emotional wallop of Leonard Cohen’s original (another guy with a seriously limited voice) or the transcendent beauty of Jeff Buckley’s version, but he put heart and soul into the song and came out with something special in its own right. Perhaps it was that he managed the emotional connection that most AI performances simply can’t reach. Or maybe it was that you could tell that he was standing right at the ragged edge of his vocal range and giving his all to make it as good as he could possibly manage.
And Tim--we called him Smiley around the Zomby household--was the picture of good grace. His parents must be proud. He stood in front of judges who were brutal and, week after week, he faced their criticism with good humor and a brilliant smile. Even when you could see that something had gotten through, he didn’t let the smile fail. And, finally, the judges relented, even to the point of almost admitting that they had treated him poorly. Still, he smiled, did his best, and enjoyed his opportunity to be in the spotlight.
He didn’t deserve to win the show, and I’m not suggesting that he did, but he had something that nearly none of the others had this year: a natural charisma and good spirit that had me pulling for him whenever we caught the show.
Tonight, though, the two who had a chance to win were a second-rate vocal talent with little charisma and a much more vibrant vocal talent (and a bit of a throwback to the early late sixties in style) who wilted a bit as the show went along.
And while I enjoyed most of the songs that Bowersox had a part in, the truth is that they were often outshone by artists well past their prime. Did you catch Joe Cocker’s moment? The man still has a bigger voice than anyone else on the show (and Lee positively disappeared beside Cocker and Bowersox in that moment--it was obvious that he wasn’t even in the same weight class).
How about Alice Cooper with his immense showmanship and command of the stage? Or Michael McDonald’s duet with Big Mike? Both of the old guys showed up big (even if the audience seemed largely confused by Michael McDonald).
The truth is that American Idol largely crowns second-rate talents and, while I’m happy for the winners, they are mostly music history footnotes just a few years after they win. Tonight, between these two, the winner should have been Bowersox, but the prize went to a guy who probably won’t be remembered except to the Idol-obsessed masses. He’ll make gobs of money (because there are some big guarantees) and he’ll live the life of a star for the next couple years (more than I’ll ever experience) and he won’t much matter in the grand scheme of things.
With Simon Cowell’s retirement from the show, I’ll be mercifully released from the last, tenuous hold that American Idol has used to lure me in with increasing irregularity.
What a relief.
Soulsavers and Mark Lanegan singing “Can’t Catch the Train.”
Sadly, I won’t be able to use Lala’s features to embed songs since Lala disappears in a few days. PS- If you were in the mood for something louder, this, from the same album, might fit the bill.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Robin Hood: The Ten Point Review
Three stars, then, mostly for the battle scenes, the amazing costumes and sets, the wonderful rapport and chemistry between the lead characters, and the fact that I’m a big fan of knights, swords, archers, and anti-tax sentiment in popular culture. A decent movie, then, but only just. I’m a fan of Ridley Scott, but this is one of his lesser efforts.
If you do find the Robin Hood myths, then Stephen R. Lawhead’s King Raven Trilogy is worth your time. It isn’t your standard view of Robin Hood, and purists will be disappointed, but the story-telling and period details are wonderful. Similarly, his take on the Arthur myths are remarkable (give a skip, though, to Avalon, a singularly unsatisfying book and a wholly unnecessary add-on to the end of the series).
Thursday, May 20, 2010
May 21, 2010: Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash X (Because I Can’t Remember Where We Left Off Edition)
At 7 p.m. on May 21, 2010, at the Milwaukee St. Tavern, the Rocky Mountain Bloggers will be drinking booze, enjoying each other’s company, and solving the thorniest political problems with the amazing acuity that only booze can provide.
Entry is sticky for now. Watch below for other posts. Directions to the bar can be found here.
Who’s Coming to the Party?
“I Wore the Uniform in Vietnam…”
Hoping to Fail
Making a long-distance attempt to understand the intent of a failed terrorist has the potential to make one look like a fool. With incomplete evidence and little access to information and statements from the man, it is just so much supposition. There is something that compels us to speculation, though, and, hopefully, to see clearly enough to find something approaching the truth.
From my view--that is, far removed from the crime scene and with nothing other than newspaper and television reports to lead me--it looks very much like Faisal Shahzad intended to fail. If that is the case, then understanding why becomes important. Why did he agree to do it? Why did he make contact with the terrorists in the first place? But why, for all that, do the job so poorly?
I had that thought while I was reading this from Mark Steyn:
I’m not suggesting that we let down our guard. In fact, I think this confirms that the United States has merely been lucky in combating terrorists on our own soil. The next bomber may not be so unlucky or incompetent or so apparently uncommitted to killing his fellow Americans. The next bomb could be devastating and it could strike nearly anywhere. Our Islamic extremist enemies have a longer view than we do (as evidenced by the decade of planning and refinement between the first WTC bombing and the second, successful act on September 11, 2001).
Our tendency towards complacency and our naively optimistic faith in human nature--belief that even our enemies are basically good and only require the right nudge to the conscience, the right Oprah-fied moment, to bring about a redemptive change that will put them in line with the American Way--is arguably our biggest flaw. On the first, consider that the bigger fight is not with the enemy but, quite literally, the urge to quit that fight, bring the troops home, and “return to normalcy.” On the latter, it seems that everyone in the US who isn’t a paleocon or a racist (former President Bush, the neocon contingent, and me included) views the world as being constructed entirely of two kinds of people: Westerners and people who haven’t yet realized their own Western ambitions (but who can be persuaded to join the fold). The common terrorist is really just a careful injection of Western cultural attitude away from being another happy Apple customer with dreams of taking the kids to Disney World.
It wouldn’t be too much of a reach to suggest that people who believe that are overly optimistic about human nature or that they don’t have a proper respect for the power of cultural and religious differences that can make, for example, the Taliban seem almost alien in their beliefs and lifestyle--that what they want is precisely the opposite of the Westernization that we hope to see slowly infecting them. Unlike Steyn’s “political-media class”, I have no illusions that Shahzad was an “isolated extremist” or that he was acting fully of his own accord. I continue to encourage an honest view of the enemy and vigilance in our efforts to keep America and our allies safe. Wishful thinking doesn’t keep the borders secure.
What I am suggesting is that in this instance, we might be seeing more evidence that Muslims immersed in American culture might have a hard time taking drastic action against their neighbors. Building a bomb, assembling it in the back of an SUV, and detonating it is hardly rocket science. The components and ingredients being commonplace and not particularly expensive, and a smart jihadi could pull it all together with minimum exposure. In fact, we know for a fact that a lone redneck whacko with a strong enough hatred of our government can not only build that bomb, but he can detonate it to truly devastating effect.
It requires a pretty strange faith in American exceptionalism to believe that a reasonably bright, college educated man with more financial support and a certificate from Pakistan’s finest Terrorist Continuing Education Camp couldn’t manage to even equal the efforts of Timothy McVeigh. Sans that perverse faith, the simplest explanation may well be one of intent.
Why are there so few attempted bombings here in the United States? Indeed, there are few attempted terrorist acts carried out on American soil and of those attempts, exceptionally few succeed to any significant effect. I’m not suggesting that downtown New York should resemble the streets of Baghdad, but America is remarkably open once you make it inside the borders. Travel from place to place is unrestricted, weapons are easy to buy and transport, and the equipment used to make bombs isn’t exactly under lock-and-key. Maybe exceptional work by our intelligence community explains the small number of domestic attacks or maybe it’s merely dumb luck. The problem with that is that I don’t believe in luck and, while I have great respect for those who work so hard to keep us safe, we know that our intelligence services can fail.
In fact, they failed in this instance and only the would-be terrorist’s incompetence or unwillingness saved the day. A cautionary note no matter how you choose to view it. Ultimately, Steyn is right: sooner or later there will be a bomber who comes through who is either better at his job or more convinced of his own actions.
Understanding why even our radicalized Muslim enemies--at least those who live amongst us--seem to have such a hard time attacking us with the same fervor as their counterparts in other regions of the world might give us a good insight as to how to continue working to win a long term peace. I may well be continuing to be a victim of that overoptimism that I mentioned earlier, but I can’t shake my belief in the “better angels of our nature” and find some hope that, ultimately, the Muslim world and the Western world can find a way to coexist without a state of constant, bloody conflict--to me, the alternative is horrific no matter which lens I choose to view it.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Meth: Not Even Once (A Very Short Story)
Meth. Not even once.
Which is extremely lucky for me because I did it twice and skipped all the bad stuff that happened to the people in those ads.
Then I never did it again.
Speaking of Beer (Because We Were, You Know)
I’m stuck somewhere between disgust that our legislators are wasting time on things like this and, then, happiness that they are wasting time on things like this instead of things that are truly harmful.
Perhaps the lesson is that a mostly useless congress is the best possible congress.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
American Idol: The Diminishing Returns Edition
I am shocked that the top three of this year’s American Idol is so horrendously bad. There is only one decent personality (Bowersox--who also has some measure of charm and a decent voice) and, beyond that, nothing whatsoever that you couldn’t hear on a street corner or dive bar on a Friday night.
And I know dive bars on Friday nights.
Whoever comes away with the victory at the end of this season is poised to be one of the music industry’s biggest afterthoughts three years on. They’ll have a few albums, they’ll make a bit of money, and no one will care in the end. I suppose Bowersox could escape that, but Lee and Casey are already fading from my memory.
Just think: they are this bad before they’re given the gift of their very own paint-by-numbers pop song that never seems to fit the style or talent of any of the singers that cross the stage.
When the hell does So You Think You Can Dance? start back up?
Woody Allen is an Ass. But You Knew That Already.
In case you missed it, Woody Allen wishes that Republicans would get out of the way of the Lightworker and give temporary Il Duce-ness to the President. I’m tempted to note the serious disconnect I’m having with a Jewish man advocating such a fascist concept, but that would be a lie. I’m not surprised at all.
Woody has been disconnected from reality for a long time now. That he would willingly hand the entire country over to one man, that he would willingly hand all of the rest of us over to one man, is just a reflection of the fantasy world that he has lived in for the bulk of his life.
PS- Mark Morford is an idiot. I wonder if he’s brave enough or smart enough to admit that the whole “Lightworker” article was lunacy and that President Obama, the good and the bad of him, is as normal as the rest of us. My guess is that he still sees “Messiah” whenever he sees Obama. His perverse view of JFK as a “high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side” is just as mind-numbingly surreal as his view of Obama. Neither view is, shall we say, “reality based” and neither does their object much in the way of good. For true believers, the step down from messiah to normal human being is an awfully big one.
For normal minds, when the messiah doesn’t follow through on those high expectations, the result is crushing disappointment and disillusionment. Real humans are usually given a little room to maneuver when they make mistakes. That Morford can maintain his messianic view of JFK even after all that we know of the dead president, just shows that he lives his delusions more deeply than the rest of us.
As I said, Mark Morford is an idiot.
Monday, May 17, 2010
One Last Note About Dio
Before we move on from Dio’s passing, here is one last, great article for you to enjoy.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal Lies
I have no idea how these statements could be construed as something other than a lie:
I can’t say that I would respect him for his choice if he admitted to doing everything that he could to avoid the draft, but I would understand. I have significant moral qualms with conscription and fully understand anyone who simply does not want to go off to war. But lying--and, yes, to say that you served in Vietnam or that you were mistreated when you returned constitutes words used with the intent to mislead--and consistently misleading people about your service is offensive.
Voting against him seems too small; he should be heckled out of the race.
Hat tip to One Fine Jay.
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